An ARC of Nick Mamatas’ Sabbath was an unexpected arrival at the house a couple of weeks ago (a consolation prize for not getting a Warrior of the Altaii ARC, perhaps?). The cover blurb bills it as “the blood-splattered epic the current year deserves” . . . which sounds like a threat, really. But I couldn’t pass on a sword and sorcery book compared to Highlander.
After a bit of a rocky start, Sabbath pleasantly surprised me. It wasn’t just a fun read; it was one with some real depth.
Sabbath is an eleventh century knight plucked from time to face and behead demonic personifications of the seven deadly sins in the New York City of today. He is chosen not just for his unparalleled skill in battle but also for his complete and utter debauchery. Only the most debauched of sinners would be immune to temptation by the deadly sins.
Sabbath put me off a bit at first, but he winds up with a really nice character arc. He comes off better in the modern day. Rather than go for the more usual fish-out-of-water humor (Sabbath effectively has a magical wiki in his head), Mamatas draws a subtler distinction. For all his debauchery, Sabbath is a man of his times. Mamatas adroitly shows how utterly bizarre such a man would find today’s NYC without focusing on the low-hanging fruit.
I went into this thinking it was a satire, but if it is, it is a subtle one, and the better for it. The first fight scene is a little too choreographed and cinematic, but, as with Sabbath’s character, they get much better as he moves to NYC. Greed was the sin I had the lowest expectations for but wound up being the most interesting of the personifications. There is a character who, in physical description, is a pretty open Trump expy. That can be done well—The Dark Side by Anthony O’Neil does it pretty well—but Mamatas write the character more as a more benign, bumbling, out-of-touch buffoon (think the mayor from Spin City) and the story is the better for it.
4 of 5 Stars.
Disclosure: Tor sent me an (unsolicited) review copy of Sabbath.
Paul on Sabbath at Paul’s Picks.